Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pure Michigan ad campaign is in jeopardy

Louis Aguilar / The Detroit News

The state's harsh financial climate has killed the Pure Michigan advertising campaign for the fall and makes prospects bleak for whether the successful tourist promotion will return.

The office behind the Pure Michigan commercials, including the popular summer ad featuring the voice of Michiganian actor Tim Allen, was cut to $17 million this year from $28 million in 2009, forcing it to freeze the fall promotion despite a robust summer tourism season.

Travel Michigan, a business unit of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., had spent as much as $2.1 million on out-of-state fall ad buys in markets like Chicago in 2008 before the budget was cut to $1.7 million in 2009 and then erased for this year, as The News reported earlier this month.

"Canceling the fall campaign was not something we wanted to do, but there was no other choice," said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan.

It could get worse. State legislators are grappling with a projected budget deficit of more than $400 million for fiscal year 2011, which starts Oct. 1. Legislative proposals would slash Travel Michigan's budget by two-thirds to $5.4 million.

"As proposals stand now, we likely won't have the money to continue any advertising campaign," Zimmermann said.

The ad campaign began in 2006, and 90 percent of its focus was to attract more out-of-state visitors because state tourism officials realized they could no longer rely solely on Michiganians, who account for 70 percent of the state's travel volume.

The state has lost almost 900,000 jobs since 2000, which has led to an exodus that has resulted in four consecutive years of population loss, said Dan McCole, an assistant professor of commercial recreation and tourism at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

"And yet the state's tourism industry is expected to improve by 3 to 4 percent this year," said McCole, who closely follows the state's tourism industry and attributes some of this year's tourism boost to the out-of-state ad campaign.

"The Pure Michigan campaign is very effective and timely," he said.

When the Pure Michigan budget was cut this year, tourism officials decided to focus its efforts and cash on the larger summer tourism season. And tourism-related activity in Michigan was up about 5 percent from last year for the period prior to the Labor Day weekend.

"It has done wonders for us," said Michael Norton, spokesman for the Traverse City Visitors and Convention Bureau. He noted most tourism-related businesses reported 30 to 40 percent increases from last summer, which was marred by bad weather.

"Those beautiful ads broke trail for us in markets we were not previously reaching," he said. "This summer, we noticed traffic from Kentucky, Maryland and Minnesota."

Since 2006, the state has spent a total of $31.7 million out of state on Pure Michigan ads. It lured an estimated 5 million out-of-state visitors who spent $1.3 billion, which generated $93.2 million in state taxes, according to Longwoods International, which tracks tourism spending.

That amounts to $2.94 of state tax revenue for every ad dollar spent by Travel Michigan on the campaign.

The Pure Michigan promotions have received many accolades. Forbes magazine ranked it sixth in its list of Top 10 best ever tourism campaigns. The U.S. Travel Association, the national group representing U.S. travel industry officials, honored it as the best state tourism ad campaign for four consecutive years.

The promotional blitz helped make Travel Michigan's website -- -- the most visited state tourism website for three consecutive years. In 2009, the site attracted 12.7 million unique hits.

The legislative fight over Pure Michigan's future is far from over, said Steve Yencich, president and CEO of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

"Next week, we intend to personally meet with our policy makers and remind them of the importance of tourism," said Yencich, who added that the group supports a $30 million budget for Travel Michigan and a plan that would dedicate a portion of the state's sales tax revenue to continue the Pure Michigan campaign.

"It is one of the industries that will play a pivotal role in a better future for Michigan." (313) 222-2760

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